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Getting Better... Every Day

by Brian Smith | / Philadelphia Flyers

The years of training and practice that have already taken place for the participants in this year’s Flyers Development Camp is mind-boggling.

Most of them have played the game from a very young age and have been exposed to countless camps, coaches, teams, programs, and what not over the years. They have seen most things that can be seen at a summer hockey camp.

But quite obviously, these are not old dogs. And they can learn new tricks.

In essence, that’s the reason the Flyers bring all their youngest properties to Voorhees for a week every summer – to get a good up-close look at them, identify strengths and weaknesses, and really give them a plan to improve both.

Most of the players in attendance at the camp are going to be spending the 2016-17 season outside the direct control of Flyers hockey operations, whether it’s in college, junior hockey, or Europe. So the annual development camp is a chance to give all of them tips on what to work on and how to work on those things, whether they’ll be in the Flyers organization as a pro or spend the season somewhere else, and hopefully return as better players in July of 2017.

“I’m just trying to be a sponge out there,” said right wing Wade Allison, a second-round selection in last month’s draft. “Everything they say is definitely very important so I’m just trying to soak it all in and take what I can from this experience.”

Allison’s approach is mirrored by the eight other 2016 picks in attendance at the camp, who are all getting their first pro experience.

“I think just to get a feel for the organization, meet all the new people and get to know everyone around here,” said goaltender Carter Hart, a second-round pick who was the first goaltender taken in this year’s draft. “I want to learn what it takes to be a Flyers goaltender and just try to soak in as much as I can from the coaches and learn what it’s like to be a pro.”

And it’s not just about things on the ice – the players are picking up things off the ice that the average amateur player might take for granted, and things that even these guys, with all the hours they’ve spent training, hadn’t heard about.

“They were talking about the flex on the stick and so many things I didn’t know,” said Tanner Laczynski, one of this year’s sixth-round picks. “That you should use a stick that’s half your body weight in flex, and flex is measured by PSI, and a bunch of other things. I thought it was pretty cool.”

But it’s not just something for new players – even guys who have been coming to the camp for a long time have good things to say about their takeaways. Defenseman Reece Willcox was drafted in 2012 and the camp has been a summer staple of his ever since. He’s finished up a four-year career at Cornell and will finally embark on his first full pro season this fall after playing six games with the Phantoms at the end of last season.

“I think I learn something new every time that I step on the ice with them,” Willcox said. “Today we were working on opening up our hips rather than crossing over when you’re pivoting from backwards to forwards. That’s something that I have a hard time doing, but it’s something that saves a lot of time going back.”

Already through two days, there have been plenty of unconventional drills that have ranged from stickhandling and passing with a softball instead of a puck and agility drills that had players jumping one-footed backwards over a small barrier and landing on the same skate. It’s all part of taking the skills they have now and developing them to the elite point needed to have success in the NHL. The Flyers are already seeing the benefits with players who have taken part in the camp before, including 2015 first-rounders Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny. Both are coming off outstanding seasons in Canadian juniors and credited last year’s camp with some of their improvement.

“[It was] different stuff like skating, head up, stick handling the puck, and stuff like that,” Provorov said. “This camp is about learning. Just trying to learn as much as I can this week and then after this camp go back home, have a good summer, train and get better and then come back and get ready for September.”

However, the general consensus among returning players is that they can maybe even absorb even more this year because they know what to expect.

“There’s been some guys here that know the ropes and I’m still following behind and learning things and how to approach different things at development camp, but I definitely feel more relaxed,” Konecny said. “I’m able to be more comfortable on the ice and my first skate last year was probably a little shaky and the pucks were probably bouncing off my stick but I felt pretty good today.”

The camp will continue throughout the weekend with both on-ice and off-ice activities, which ranges from everything from the dry-land training most people would expect at a hockey camp to things that might surprise people, such as learning how to buy the right foods at the grocery store.

“… They’re young, they’re green, they’re hungry, and they’re sponges,” said Flyers player development coach John Riley. “We had a nutritional speaker, we had social media training, we had information on drugs and alcohol – all of the different aspects of life that you need to master to be a professional athlete. It’s not just about skating… it’s about all of those things.”

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